Looking at the big picture, however, there are several aspects of the Congress that have indirect but nonetheless significant bearing on the future of the church in China.
First is the simple fact that the Congress indeed took place on schedule (give or take a month) and culminated in an orderly transfer of power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping. This is only the second such transfer of power in China's long history. Moreover Xi has neither revolutionary credentials nor was he handpicked by someone who had them (unlike both Hu and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who could trace their "revolutionary bloodline" back to Deng Xiaoping). Granted the "transfer" was from one carefully vetted leader to another of the same party and was anything but democratic. Yet it signified the Party's continued transition away from strongman leadership and toward a consensus model.
Secondly, the shrinking of the Politburo Standing Committee from nine members back down to the original seven may suggest the current leadership's desire for a more efficient environment in which this consensus process can take place. It is easier to achieve unity among seven than among nine. Vigorous backroom negotiations, particularly involving retired Party elders such as Jiang, obviously preceded the decision on the final line-up. In the end, however, there emerged a streamlined leadership team.
Finally, this Party Congress was preceded by both the Bo Xilai scandal and Western news reports of the incredible wealth amassed by China's top leaders. These highlighted the need for the Party to take seriously the problem of discipline within its ranks and to face up to growing discontent among a disgruntled populace. Had Bo, the flamboyant left-leaning party boss from Chongqing, been able to continue his upward trajectory he would have likely pulled the leadership in the direction of a dangerous return to Cultural Revolution-style politics. This humbling realization has undoubtedly prompted more than a little introspection within the Party.
The picture that emerges from this congress is of a leadership with institutionalized processes, willing to play by its rules and increasingly on guard against the abuses of power that have characterized much of China's strongman rule in the past. For Christians in China it is a hopeful sign that the government is continuing its move toward a less ideological, more rational approach, and that in time this will translate into policies that allow believers to play their rightful role in society.
As Christians we pray for our government leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and for the welfare of our nation. As Christians interested in China and the Chinese church, we should also pray for Xi Jinping and the Politburo Standing Committee members. Indeed, as we celebrate Christmas and are reminded that God moved those in power to prepare the way for the birth of our Savior, we are encouraged to pray knowing that God also is working through the leaders of China to accomplish His purposes today.
As Christmas approaches, remember our brothers and sisters in China who are also celebrating the birth of our Savior and giving testimony to their faith in Christ.
Pastor Pei, a Beijing pastor, recently encouraged his congregation saying:
Christmas is a great chance for sharing the Gospel. We should shift our eyes from the present and material things to spiritual things. A man with faith is a man who knows how to grasp opportunities and tell people that Jesus is the best Christmas present.
(Read more at ChineseChurchVoices)
A Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to you,
The ChinaSource Team
(image source: Wikipedia)
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